Foreign Policy Blogs

Financial Crisis = Changing Priorities?

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released last week a public opinion poll about Americans’ views on foreign policy issues. The findings show the American public's number one foreign policy worry is the country's standing in the world.

The Financial Times reported on the findings:

“The… survey found that 83 per cent of respondents thought that improving their country's world standing should be a "very important" foreign policy goal. This was the highest priority, ranking above the 80 per cent who saw protecting US jobs as very important.

“Americans understand the message that is coming from the rest of the world that the US is too unilateralist," said Steven Kull, director of the International Policy Attitudes programme at the University of Maryland.”

Below is a chart from the poll's report detailing Americans’ top foreign policy goals. (For more findings, view the poll's full report).


Here's the problem: these data were collected in July. Now that the American financial sector has collapsed, how much do you want to bet that Americans’ second priority–protecting American jobs–has now trumped the first? Historically, Americans tend to turn inward when times are hard. This is unfortunate, since the collapse has likely made the world less willing to trust American leadership, thus this foreign policy goal harder to achieve.

Jim Hoagland discussed this prospect in his Sunday column in the Washington Post. He called for the end of “financial unilateralism,” and noted the sober remarks of a US ally.

“Here for the U.N. General Assembly opening and to receive a humanitarian award at a black-tie dinner, Sarkozy, an unabashed admirer of the United States, had other sober advice worth considering. He spoke in a hotel ballroom filled with Wall Street financiers who underwrote the gala — but his words seemed aimed not only at them but also at Bush, Congress and ultimately the American nation:

“You cannot demand to lead and then say that you are not responsible when things do not work out. You cannot accept only the rewards and duck the bad consequences of your actions.”

Americans cannot take for granted a world leadership role that comes with little cost or sacrifice, as they have tended to do in the Clinton-Bush era. That role must be earned anew, and the costs cannot simply be passed down to our children and grandchildren. Otherwise, as John Maynard Keynes might have said, in the long run we are all poor.”

Hoagland and Sarkozy remind us that in harsh economic times it is even more important for the US to lead, and for the American people and government to be concerned when our leadership role becomes called into question. Understandably–and unfortunately–it's hard to see right now beyond our own financial worries. Let's hope I am wrong, and that Americans don't loose site of what was just in July a top foreign policy priority–improving the country's standing in the world.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.